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Best vacations begin with detailed planning

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Photographs by Rick Steves’ Europe/LAURA VANDEVENTER

Paris offers more sights than you’ll be able to see in one trip; enjoy the rooftop of Notre Dame but save some other attractions for your next visit.

The best travelers aren't those with the fattest wallets, but those who take planning seriously. Jack might jet off to Europe as a free spirit, with no real itinerary -- and return home full of complaints about how expensive and stressful it all was. Jill, who travels with good information and a detailed day-to-day plan, returns home with rich stories of spontaneous European adventures. It's the classic paradox of good travel: "Winging it" can become a ball-and-chain of too many decisions, too little information, and scant time to relax. Structure rewards a traveler with freedom.

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For a balanced trip, spend time in a tranquil village like Beilstein in Germany’s Mosel Valley after the hectic pace of a big... + Enlarge

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